Triathlete No. 214
By Karen Kefauver, photos by Robert Oliver
Against the backdrop of Maui, the Xterra World Championships is the annual test of endurance and skill required to excel off-road. This year, it was the South Africans who shined brightest, as Conrad Stoltz and Anke Erlank earned their first Xterra world titles.
Not even the vicious kiawe thorns could stop Conrad Stoltz from capturing his first victory at the Nissan Xterra World Championship in Maui. The South African native had never tackled the notoriously difficult course, but after dominating the bike leg and ultimately opening a nine-minute gap on a world-class field, he walked away with the 520,000 winner’s check at the end of a tough day.
Stoltz and 388 competitors charged into the balmy Pacific Ocean for the start of the sixth annual Xterra championship with a $105,000 purse at stake. The talented field of pros and age groupers were set to attack two loops of the rough water 1.5k swim, a gnarly 30k bike on the slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakala and an Ilk run through jagged rock, scrub and sand. The race was the culmination of a series of 26 qualifying events worldwide–with 18 in the United States and eight held in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Japan.
The day’s challenges included changes to the run course (“The Wall,” a climb over lava rocks, was replaced with “Hell,” a hot, dusty climb and descent) to avoid construction crews building multi-million dollar coastal homes. A 2 p.m. cut-off was also enforced for the bike course, located on the private property of 30 landowners and closed to the public at all times.
None of these changes proved obstacles for first-time Xterra world champions Stoltz, 28, and Anke Erlank, 24, both from South Africa and both new to the Xterra Maui race. Each earned their victories by taking control during the bike and leaving their competition relegated to chase mode.
The day began with Oahu lifeguard John Flanagan, a world-class swimmer, pushing the top swimmers by coming in at 18:19 in his first triathlon. He was followed by Hawaiian lifeguard Glenn Wachtell (18:55) and Eneko Llanos of Spain (19:34).
Stoltz completed his swim in 19:44 and caught the lead cyclists about 15 minutes into the 30k bike leg. He maintained a comfortable lead and delivered the fastest split of the day in 1:27:31.
Former mountain bike pro and ’98 and ’99 Xterra world champion Ned Overend docked 1:31:09 on the bike, followed by ’96 Xterra champion Jimmy Riccitello in 1:32:17. French pro Nicolas LeBrun, who had been a top contender, dropped out of the race after he was unable to recover from a flat tire.
By T2, Stoltz had earned a seven-minute lead, and the race for the $10,000 second place prize shifted dramatically during the run. Former Navy Seal Kerry Classen, who began the run in fourth behind Riccitello and Overend, claimed the runner-up spot when he passed the two veterans halfway through the trail run from Makena to Wailea. The fastest runner of the day was 2001 Boston Triathlon winner Paul Amey in 39:07.
Stoltz finished on top in 2:28:48, and Classen followed in 2:37:02 with Riccitello 35 seconds back and Overend in fourth. The Reign of the Mikes had ended. For the first time, neither Mike Pigg, Michael Tobin (2000 champion) nor Mike Vine had placed in the top three. “Everything went so well today for me,” said a thrilled Stoltz. “I felt like I was flyin’–just breezing along. Today was my day.”
In the women’s race, Anke Erlank dominated from early on the bike. New to Xterra this year, the rider from the women’s Saturn-Timex cycling team had won 2001 Central and West championships in the Xterra series.
Fresh off her seventh-place finish at the Hawaii Ironman, Wendy Ingraham had the fastest swim of the day in 20:27, followed by Australian pro Raeleigh Tennant in 21:07 and fellow Aussie Jody Mielke 33 seconds behind her. Despite a disappointing swim in 25:48, Erlank fought her way to the top of the pack in the first climb on the bike. Her cycling talent landed her the fastest split of the day in 1:48:06, followed by Canadian pro Lesley Tomlinson in 1:52:31.
Pro Shari Kain of Cupertino, Calif., the ’99 Xterra champion, was plagued with problems on the bike, destroying the lead she enjoyed for nearly half the bike leg. She watched the top women pass while she struggled with mechanical problems related to a flat tire. “At that point, my mentality was to chase back to the front,” Kain said. “I rode too aggressively at the most technical part of the course.” Kain wiped out, hitting her head at a treacherous spot called the “Plunge.” Dazed and fearing she had broken an elbow, she climbed back on her bike, only to crash again later. “At that point, I was almost ready to throw in the towel.” She sought medical attention at T2 and continued on the run, ultimately finishing 13th.
Cherie Touchette and Erin McCarty of California chased Erlank out of bike-run transition. Erlank’s gap widened on the run, but Colorado pro and defending 2000 Xterra World Champion Kerstin Weule, 32, secured third place with the second fastest run split of the day in 47:04.
A victorious Erlank finished her first Nissan Xterra World Championship in 3:00:59. Touchette finished second nearly a minute back, followed by Weule and Monique Merrill.
Erlank admitted that she was “happy I didn’t know what the course looked like before I went out there… at some points I felt like I was dying.” That feeling melted away with the $20,000 winner’s check. “That can almost buy a house in South Africa,” she said.
Ten percent of competitors reported to the medical tent post-race, including Kain, who had extensive road rash. The new mom was clearly disappointed with 13th place. “I was really bummed because I was so close to a great race. But after that I am more convinced than ever to come back for a great season next year.”
Pros Cameron Widoff and Wendy Ingraham won the Hawaiian Airlines “Double”–$2,500 each and airline tickets for the fastest combined Nissan Xterra championship and Hawaii
Ironman times. Widoif, who had placed eighth in Kona two weeks before, hadn’t planned to race, but only to cheer for his brother, Benjamin Widoff. At the final hour, the Colorado
athlete decided to borrow a bike, helmet and running shoes from friends and jump into the race, lured by the Double.
XTERRA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Maui, Hawaii, October 14, 2001
1 Conrad Stoltz 2:28:48
2 Kerry Classen 2:37:02
3 Jimmy Riccitello 2:37:31
4 Ned Overend 2:38:05
5 Andrew Noble 2:39:19
6 Pat Brown 2:41:32
7 Paul Amey 2:44:22
8 Jimmy Archer 2:44:29
9 Jason Chalker 2:45:24
10 Wes Hobson 2:48:17
1 Anke Erlank 3:00:59
2 Cheri Touchette 3:11:51
3 Kerstin Weule 3:12:37
4 Monique Merrill 3:13:41
5 Lesley Tomlinson 3:14:35
6 Jamie Whitmore 3:15:18
7 Erin McCarty 3:15:30
8 Candy Angle 3:15:57
9 Jenny Tobin 3:16:16
10 Linda Gabor 3:17:50